Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Clarification, Courtesy of Mom

My mother just sent me an email about my blog. Since she gave me life and raised me on delicious Chocodiles and RC Cola, I feel compelled to share her side of the story about my first memory, as noted in part one of A Letter from Midlife.

Her email reads:

Just caught up with your blog, and while it's delightful and I laughed out loud in several places, I feel a correction is in order. When you spoke of your toddler self ....and mentioned your parents' closed bedroom door (in the daytime, no less) on Gregory Drive, you inferred that something of a sexual nature was taking place. I keenly remember that day, and we were simply hiding from you guys and eating Cheez-its. I think we had a bet going on how long it would be before you pounded on the door. (I won $5).

Strive for accuracy.


Although I do not believe my mother for one second, I certainly believe in fairness.

And God help me, I now know what my parents were doing every time they told us they were heading upstairs to "eat some Cheez-its."

Thursday, March 25, 2010


The closer I get to 40, the more I loathe Courteney Cox Arquette. I'm sure she's a lovely person, but as my birthday looms (yes, expect me to be obsessed with this for a while), she's my worst nightmare - excluding the one I had about Krispy Kreme going out of business, that is.

Thanks to Arquette and the success of Cougar Town, women of certain, ahem, ages are supposed to get all cougar-fied and look like this:

Are you effin' kidding me, Courteney? That's a lot of work! Are we sure this is progress for womankind? 'Cause maybe some days I'd rather look like this:

Look: I've spent a good 25 years taking great pains with my appearance. Just when I thought it was safe to put down the tweezers and embrace my natural unibrow, I get Courtney, Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston and all the other fabulous over-40 bitches telling me I can't, lest I bring down the rest of the cougar pride.

Ain't right, y'all.

Case in point:

While grocery shopping yesterday, a very attractive woman pushed her cart in front of me. She sported a trendy, fashionable top, snug designer jeans and adorable wedge sandals. Her hair was styled in a chic cut with perfect highlights. If I estimated her age from her backside, I'd guess she was in her early 20s, at most. But then she slowly turned around… dunDuNDUN….and she looked like this:

It's ridiculous! Who are we kidding? Do we really look younger with these gimmicks, or do we merely look like old(er) women trying to look younger?

Every day, more and more of my peers are going under the knife and/or injecting themselves with Botox and fillers (I don't know what is in the fillers, but I suspect it's the same stuff they put in Twinkies, so I'll just eat Twinkies instead). The point is, instead of looking like older women, they look like older women who have had work done. Is that an improvement?

Not to say I'm not depressed about some of the changes I see in the mirror every day. I would like my upper lip back when I smile, please. I could do without those wrinkles around my eyes and that hollowed out neck. I'm not real fond of the new super curly white hairs cropping up there (and egads!, down there). And if anyone can recommend a good trainer who specializes in elbow and knee toning, kindly pass me his or her number…

Still, I want to start an anti-cougar revolution. At 40, we should be allowed to relax. Let's wear the sweatpants with the elastic bands at the bottom! Let's give ourselves haircuts at home! Let's toss out our ridiculously overpriced anti-aging products and embrace our frumpy, older selves! Who is with me - besides Whoopi Goldberg and Rosie O'Donnell?

Sigh. That's what I thought.

So if you'll excuse me, I no longer have time to work on this blog. I have to fork out $1100 for .2 ounces of anti-wrinkle cream made from unicorn blood; make an appointment with Heidi Montag's plastic surgeon; call the elbow/knee toning trainer; raid my teen-age daughter's wardrobe; touch up my roots; pluck the grays; wax my mustache (er, not that I have one); spray on a fake tan; and spackle my face.

Thanks, Courteney. Thanks a hell of a lot.

Please tell me I can relax at 50?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Letter from MidLife

Dear 39-year-old Jennifer:

Has it dawned on you that you are entering your last month in your thirties, that you are about to hit the Big Four-O(h shit!), the Hump Day of life?

Oh, right. I remember now that you've been drinking lots of wine, eating too much Haagen-Dazs, studying your ass in the mirror more often than normal (Seriously. Stop that.) and practically bathing in regenerating serum and Oil of Old Lady lately. Yeah, I think you've figured it out.

This is a naturally reflective time in one's life, so the older and hopefully wiser version of you (umm, me), has taken it upon herself (umm, yourself) to write the younger you (me) a few words of wisdom. Are you (me) still with me (you)?

Pour yet another glass of vino, grab a spoonful of Haagen-Dazs and sit on that lovely, gravity-defying ass a spell. (Lovely? Gravity-defying? Sigh. I see we've already hit the wine).


Dear Almost-Three-Year-old Jennifer:

Your first real memory will be formed now, so we must be very careful about what it is. You'll be playing on your swing set in the backyard of that small, brick house on Gregory Drive with 20 screaming neighborhood kids when the swing set will suddenly flip over, hurling children in every direction. Your panicked siblings will send you toddling back into the house to fetch your parents, but their bedroom door will be closed.

Do NOT, under any circumstances, open that bedroom door. Trust me on this one. :::shudder:::


Dear Four-Year-Old Jennifer:

Geez. Where do I begin? I think four-year-old you is the reason for all this gray hair we have now. Thanks for that.

First and foremost, when your older sister tells you to stop bouncing on the bed because you're going to fall and bust your noggin open like a melon, believe her. Really, I could do without that scar on my forehead. On the bright side, the older neighborhood kids will pool together and offer you two chocolate chip cookies, 27 cents and a stuffed animal if you will remove the bandage and show them your 18 stitches. On second thought, don’t listen to your sister. Those cookies rock!

Later that year, when at the corner grocery store with your enormously pregnant mother and two other siblings, do not entertain yourself by running in-and-out, in-and-out of the automatic doors barefoot. Before your mother finishes her grocery trip, those doors will close on your little bare toes. You will scream. Your pregnant mother will see you trapped in the door and scream. A crowd will form, and they will scream. The butcher will come running out wearing a bloody apron and holding a cleaver. Your pregnant mother will scream again and lunge for the cleaver until the nice man assures her he's only going to use it to wedge the door open, not chop off your piggies. Thanks to the butcher, your This Little Piggy Went to Market and This Little Piggy Stayed Home toes will be freed eventually, but you will be rushed to the emergency room. Your father, on his way home from an afternoon of golf, will see your mother driving frantically to the hospital and think she's in labor. He will scream.

You could save everyone a lot of screaming that day if you'd just wear your sneakers, but I know you won't. You're a little girl growing up in a small town in Kentucky in the 1970s, and despite an untold number of bee stings and splinters the next few years, you'll refuse to wear shoes in summer because you relish the feel of cool green grass under your feet. Actually, I kind of dig that about you.

Last but not least, one morning before you turn five, your sweet but ancient great aunt will nod off on the couch while watching "The Price Is Right." You will have this grand idea to take off on your Big Wheel alone and surprise your parents at their downtown newspaper offices. I'm going to save those little legs of yours a lot of pedaling and tell you this now: you cannot eventually get across that busy, scary Green Street by pedaling all the way down the street for miles. Roads don't usually work that way. Thank goodness a school crossing guard picks you up and takes you and your Big Wheel home, or you would have pedaled your way to California before you figured it out.

p.s. You're still lousy with directions.


Dear Five-Year-Old Jennifer:

On Show and Tell Day in kindergarten, you will bring your imaginary friends, the Nice Monsters. You will tell the kids how the Nice Monsters, Shelly and Fred, live in your next-door neighbor's tree. You will explain that you lure them out of the tree by walking around its gnarly base of roots six times, knocking on the trunk three times, pausing, and knocking once again.

The kids will laugh and point and tell you that no one is there. You will explain that Shelly and Fred are shy but are the most wonderful, fantastic friends. Really! But Shelly and Fred will exchange awkward glances and look at the floor when you implore them to show themselves.

When you walk Shelly and Fred home that day, the Nice Monsters will climb into the tree and bid you goodbye. You will cry, but they will tell you it is time to make new, real friends, who can hold your hand and push you on the swing.

Sadly, you will turn around to go home, but you will see Jon, the boy from your class who lives behind you, quietly watching you. He doesn't laugh. He tells you he thought your Nice Monsters were neat, and he asks you if you'll show him how to get them out of the tree.

You will walk around the tree six times, knock three times, pause and knock again, but Shelly and Fred won’t answer. You'll try again, but your monster friends won't come down. Jon will shrug and ask if you want to play on his swing set. Say yes. The two of you will race up the alley toward his house, away from the tree. You will never look back.

If you glance over your shoulder, from the tippy-top branches of that big ol' tree, you might see the Nice Monsters smiling.


Dear Six-To-Twelve-Year-old Jennifer:

Yes, you and Jon will become the best of friends. The next few years, he will be the Fonzie to your Pinky Tuscadero, the Danny to your Sandy, the Bo Duke to your Daisy and the Kevin to your Winnie. But here are a few tips to help you navigate this childhood friendship:

*When Jon says, "If you show me yours, I'll show you mine," do NOT show him yours! He is lying! He will not show you his. He will laugh and run away, eventually telling all the other neighborhood kids you showed him the stuff in your knickers! I can understand you falling for it once, but three times? That's just sad.

*Jon will do anything for a cookie, including sucking his own big toe and eating his boogers, so be careful what you ask of him unless you actually want to see him do it (You think that could have helped you with the predicament mentioned above, hmmm?).

*When Jon tells you it will be fun to throw Matchbox cars at recess in school, he's right. It is fun. But what he doesn't tell you is that your Matchbox car will hit Mrs. Stribling in the head, and you will have to stand in the corner the rest of the school day. (Still, it will be totally worth it. In fact, pack two Matchbox cars that day. Maybe you can hit Mrs. Bodkin, too).

*You and Jon will watch Evel Knievel stunts religiously, resulting in The Most Stupid But Epic Bike Stunt Ever. If you have the guts, here's how it works: You will meet on bikes at one end of the neighborhood church parking lot. You will give each other the solemn nod, so you know it's serious. You'll remind each other of the one rule: no braking. You'll scream, "EVEL KNIEVEL!" at the top of your lungs, then pedal as hard and as fast as you can, the wind whipping through your hair in those ignorant, but fan-freaking-tastic days before helmets. Mindful of the no-braking rule, you'll fly down the hill at the opposite end of parking lot and, at full-speed, crash your bikes into the tin building at the bottom. Your wiry, pre-adolescent bodies will hurl through the air (the best part) and you will land with a thud on top of the tin roof. It's incredibly reckless. Your mothers will not approve. You could even die. But if you don't chicken out, it will be the most fun you've ever had, and it will cause the brain damage that leads to this very blog. You won't want to miss that.

*Jon will be the best teammate for neighborhood games of hide-and-go-seek, tag, softball, basketball and kickball. You will always want him on your team. Bribe him with cookies, if necessary. Jon's mom will let everyone in the neighborhood know it is time to end the games at night, when she stands at her back door and yells, "Jooo--oooonnnnnnn! Joo--ooooonnnnn! Jooo--ooooooonnnn!" Somehow she will make "Jon" two syllables, and she will yell it at least three times before Jon has to go inside. Her evening calls to him will become a neighborhood rite of summer, sure as the fireflies and honeysuckle.

*When you are eight, for the brief period of time your dad moves out of your house, Jon will play with you every single day for weeks. You will never talk about it, and he will never ask you to. You will just play on his swing set until it gets dark. You will wait for your father to pull into your carport, and when he doesn't, you will turn to Jon and say, "Meet me back here tomorrow?" Jon will nod as you head for home.

*A few years later, when Jon's Mom succumbs to cancer, you will play with Jon every single day for weeks. He will never talk about it, and you will never ask him to. You will just play basketball in the backyard until it gets dark. Jon will wait for his mother to call for him, and when she doesn't, he will turn to you and say, "Meet you back here tomorrow?" You will nod as Jon heads for home.

*When you are twelve, you and Jon will stand awkwardly in the gravel alley that runs from your house to his. It will be raining, and you'll look at each other like strangers, not best friends who have shared cookies and Matchbox cars and endless games of backyard H.O.R.S.E. Jon will take your hand, lean over, and very sweetly, quickly, kiss you on the lips. Your heart will pound; his face will flush. Then you'll both burst out laughing and pinkie swear to never, ever, ever - even if your lives depended on it - kiss again.

Jon will go home, and you'll run inside the house and look at yourself in the mirror for a long time to see if you've changed. You won't see it, but you did, in fact, change that evening.

The next morning, as the rain gives way to sun and you meet Jon in the alley for the walk to school, you'll both realize those carefree, playful days of tag and bikes and swing sets are gone. You'll remain friends, but it's different somehow.

Eventually, you'll grow apart, but you'll always be grateful for the neighborhood boy who begged for cookies, didn't laugh at your Nice Monsters and gave you your first kiss.

(To Be Continued.....)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Boss Self is a Sucker!

Look! It's a new post! And I'm only a week or so behind... sigh.

See, it was a beautiful, glimpse-of-Spring week in Kentucky, and my boss self gave my writer self permission to sit and sip on the porch as often as my writer self wanted - which was a lot. A lot. A lot.

How did Writer Self get away with such slothfulness and torpidity? (Yes, I wrote, "torpidity." I know how to use a thesaurus!).

Writer Self went to Boss Self and said, "Boss Self, isn't it vital that I get out there in the world, soak up the sun and live life to its fullest, so that I actually have better material to write about? Think about it, Boss Self. Take all the time you need. Meanwhile, I'll be on the porch swing."

Boss self joined me on the swing and said, "Why, Writer Self! You are a genius! That is absolutely what you should do. Live now; write later! Let's go to Sonic and toast our brilliant living/writing plan with a Route 44 Cherry Limeade!"

Writer Self snickered under her breath. Boss Self is a total sucker.

Obviously, all my selves have issues with discipline - especially if the sun is shining after a rotten winter, and tender green shoots are breaking through the garden soil. Oh, how I want to play!

Although difficult, I must find balance between working and merry-making, especially if I want this writer thing to work out for me long-term. And I do. I really, really do.

But as I sit in front of my computer, staring at the daunting blank screen and searching my soul for words, my mind drifts to many other things, most of which aren't appropriate writing fodder.

Like what? I thought you'd never ask.

So I broke it down into a handy-dandy pie chart for you! No, no. It wasn't too much trouble. Nothing is too good for you, Porch Sitters.

Truth be told, this entire post was just an excuse to use a pie chart because I think pie charts are funny. At least other people's pie charts are funny. Mine kind of sucks, which is why I should quit writing now, and go sit on the porch swing, thinking about how I can be a better, more disciplined writer/pie-chart creator.

It's okay. Boss Self said I could. (Fortunately for Writer Self, Boss Self likes a little drinky drink on Friday evenings).

Happy weekend, y'all. Don't work too hard. And if you happen to be near my porch, please drop off a cherry limeade. I'll make room on the swing.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Little Gandhi's Grand Idea

The other day, my first-grade son surprised me on the way home from school when he suddenly veered from our conversation about his classmate's new haircut to talk of dreams and souls. "When we dream," he informed me, "It is almost like our souls are playing in a parallel universe. Do you know what I mean, Mom?"

"I might know what you mean," I said, "but I really need coffee before I can contemplate anything more complicated than Noah's hair," and then I jerked the minivan into Starbucks. Everyone knows that talk of souls and parallel universes begins with a white mocha.

Over coffee, milk and mini donuts, my son shared his theory of alternative dimensions with me. Not for the first time, I realized that my little boy sometimes doesn't seem so "little." He's one of those kids I'd describe as having an old soul, if such things exist. In fact, my family often refers to him as "Little Gandhi."

He's a very deep, spiritual and compassionate little dude.

He once spontaneously knelt over the new spring flowers that dotted our front yard and very softly whispered, "Thank you, God" before resuming play. And not long ago, he staged a recess sit-in because his elementary school did not serve vegetarian options. He refused to eat the chicken nuggets, prompting a plea from his teacher to please bring him a peanut butter sandwich.

"Just because I am a man does not mean I have to be a predator," he told us (predators) later.

Power to the people! Stick it to The Man!

So I was very excited when I learned of a state-sponsored contest for his age group that invited him to "Dream Out Loud" for a chance to win a $2,500 college scholarship. Students are asked to submit an original drawing, poem, essay or video answering the question, "How will I change the world after I go to college?"

Smugly, I knew Little Gandhi would nail this one. Cha-ching! Money in the bank! Would my pint-sized philosopher speak of finding cures for horrible diseases, bringing peace to the Middle East or creating an alternative fuel that boosted the economy and cleaned the environment? I couldn't wait to hear his ideas.

So at dinner, I told him about the contest and asked him, "How will you change the world after you go to college?"

His brow furrowed as he contemplated improving life for all mankind. Then he looked up at me with those sparkling baby blues and very earnestly said, "Umm, I think I'd invent a massaging chair for when you go to the bathroom."

Little Gandhi had spoken. The world needs massaging toilets, dammit, and we need them now!

It's brilliant. I'm already counting the $2,500.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Fear Not

Today's post is in honor of J., my sister-in-law who is courageously battling breast cancer. I joyfully report that J. receives her final round of chemo today; however, I unhappily note that while making significant strides physically, J. is struggling emotionally with all that she has endured.

And who wouldn't struggle? Six months ago, J. was a vibrant, 31-year-old mother who had no history of cancer in her family but detected a lump while doing a breast exam in the shower (an important reminder to check the girls regularly). Thankfully, J. didn't ignore the lump and called her doctor, who ordered a mammogram. The mammogram lead to a biopsy, and the subsequent pathology report resulted in a double mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, chemical menopause and reconstruction.

To say it hasn't been easy to endure amputations and drugs and tests and scarring and hair loss and financial difficulties and all the other rotten stuff that comes with cancer is an understatement.

To say J. has been petrified at times is an understatement.

But to say that she has fought with courage and conviction that amazes everyone who knows her (and even some who don't), is perhaps the greatest understatement of all.

So while J. is relieved to be at this juncture, this final blast of chemo, she is also sick and tired of being sick and tired. She wrote in her own journal not long ago that she has hit rock bottom. A very faithful person, J. says she wanted to stand at the altar of her church recently and just scream and scream and scream. But she didn't. Instead, after church, she took her husband's hand, walked out on her farm and quietly, tearfully, shared her fears.

Here's the thing: J. thinks she is weak because she is scared. But she is the epitome of strength. I only hope that I could endure such challenges as courageously as she has. I have met grace under pressure, and it is J.

In her fear, J. has cried out to God for a sign - something she can hold onto, a real sign that can't be denied, something that will let her know she is okay, that God hears her prayers and knows her fears.

And that's where a child's plastic bracelet comes in, friends.

A few months ago, I was cleaning out my laundry room and discovered a little bracelet strung with what looks like plastic bottle caps. It obviously was a child's craft project. I didn't recognize the bracelet but didn't pay much attention to it, either, since kiddo craft projects are bulging out of every drawer and cabinet of my house. I just set it out in the kitchen, thinking it must belong to my first-grade son. Perhaps he had made it in school or received it from a classmate.

The bracelet set on the buffet for days, and both of my children ignored it. At that point, I decided it wasn't of value to them, so I tossed it out with the trash. Or so I thought.

A few days later, I went into the laundry room and found the bracelet lying on the floor beside the trash can. Once again, I set it out in the kitchen to give my children a chance to claim it. They didn't, so I threw it away for the second time.

The next day, I sighed in exasperation when I found the bracelet beside the trash can, not in it. That blasted bracelet was mocking me! This time I didn't bother to set it out for the kids; I crammed it back into the trash.

Lo and behold, a couple of days later, I discovered that dang bracelet setting on top of my dryer. I couldn't believe it, but I assumed it had fallen out when my husband gathered the trash. I threw it away for the fourth friggin' time! This time, I took care to shove it waaaaay down into the trash bag and cover it up with muck. Ha-HA, Bracelet! Try to get out now!

It certainly appeared I had rid myself of that crafty bracelet once and for all. I didn't see it for months and didn't think anything else about it - until last week, when a rare warm, sunny day lead all of us out to the backyard to work in the garden.

We were busy undoing winter's damage, when I noticed something purple among the sticks and debris.

"It can't be," I said, shaking my head in disbelief.

Oh, yes, it was. Sure enough, the bracelet had once again reappeared. I bent down to retrieve it and told my husband about The Bracelet That Shall Not Be Tossed. I turned to my son and asked if the bracelet was his, but he shook his head.

Reaching for the bracelet, my husband said, "You know what? I think that bracelet was in the bottom of a shopping bag that came home from Mom's or J's house last fall with some other stuff. It must be R's (J's five-year-old son)."

For the first time, we both really looked at the bracelet:

Yes, those little bottle caps read, "Fear Not."

My husband and I stared at each other across the garden for a long time. I took the bracelet inside and set it in a safe place - far, far from any trash cans. I contacted J. and, without prefacing it, asked her if she remembered a little plastic bottle cap bracelet.

She did. She told me her son had made it in Vacation Bible School last summer, before J. found the lump, before her world turned upside down and inside out and right side wrong.

So I told her the story, about how the bracelet refused to be thrown away, and I reminded her of what the bottle caps said: Fear not.

J. burst into tears. She told me only then that she had been at her lowest, that she had been desperately praying every night for a sign, for something she could hold onto in the murky, scary depths of cancer.

"Fear not," it says simply. It's just a little plastic bracelet made by J.'s own son before his mother even knew of the battle ahead of her. A little plastic bracelet that could not - would not - be tossed, in spite of numerous attempts. A little plastic bracelet that J. can physically hold onto, when emotionally or spiritually, she feels she can't hold onto anything else.

A little plastic bracelet that disappeared but returned to her when she needed it most.

Fortunately, J.'s future looks sunny and bright. But if she is ever afraid of the dark, she has something to clasp, a simple reminder of her unwavering faith, of her incredible courage and of a love in this universe too big and powerful for us to fathom...or toss aside.